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Thailand Sends Hundreds of Refugees Back to Myanmar

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Hundreds of Myanmar refugees who fled fighting between the military and ethnic rebels have been sent back across the border by Thailand, according to a Thai official, who said on Sunday that clashes were continuing.

Reuters was told by some of the refugees who made it to northwest Thailand’s Tak province that they volunteered to go back. Reporters on the Thai side of the border heard continuous gunfire on Sunday afternoon.

In the afternoon, provincial governor Somchai Kitcharoenrungroj told Reuters: “People are more willing to return because they are concerned about their property.”.

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, urged Thailand not to rush refugees home.

Robertson said, “Everyone knows the Myanmar military deliberately targets civilians when it is in the field, so it isn’t exaggerating to say these refugees are fleeing for their lives.”

On Sunday, the spokesman for Myanmar’s military junta did not answer his phone. Military officials claim civilians are being targeted.

According to the Aid Alliance Committee, a Myanmar migrants group based in Thailand, there are about 1,000 displaced people camped along the Myanmar-Thai border.

Read: Myanmar Refugees Riot Over Alleged Extortion by Camp Officials

Reuters reporters witnessed dozens of refugees who had been sheltering at a Thai school being loaded into three trucks and sent back across the border on Sunday morning.

As the refugee stood in a truck about to leave for the border, he said, “I fled Mae Htaw Talay. Artillery was falling on my neighbourhood.” He then said, “I walked across the water to this side (of Thailand).”

According to Kitcharoenrungroj, the governor of Tak province, 623 refugees have been sent home and 2,094 remain in Thailand; all can return if they wish he said.

Since the military ousted leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government on Feb. 1, Myanmar has seen protests and sporadic clashes between anti-junta militias and the military in the countryside.

Last week, the Karen National Union (KNU), Myanmar’s oldest rebel group, and the military fought again, forcing thousands to flee the Karen state.

Several people crossed the narrow river between Myanmar and Thailand in boats; others waded through chest-high water while holding children.

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